Monday, February 26, 2007

Pick a Horus, any Horus

Trying to make sense of the Egyptian myth of Horus, my first question was, "Which one?" E. A. Wallis Budge listed 15 different Horus gods in his The Gods of the Egyptians (1904), and George Hart's A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses (1986) lists 14!

Happily, I'm not the only one baffled by this profusion of overlapping deities. The nature of Egyptian polytheism has been a challenge to scholars since classical times. I'm reading Erik Hornung's Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt (1970, trans. 1981 by John Baines) and am grateful for his citation of this passage from Philippe Derchain's Le papyrus Salt 825 (1965), which suggests that it's possible to think of the Egyptian deities in a way that is completely different from Western monotheism or Greek polytheism:

A god is combined with another and becomes a new being with new characteristics, and then at the next moment separates into a number of entities. What he is remains hidden, but his luminous trail can be seen, his reaction with others is clear, and his actions can be felt. He is material and spiritual, a force and a figure, he is manifest in changing forms that should be mutually exclusive, but we know that within all this something exists and exercises power.

Derchain's extended simile from particle physics is intentional. The answer to "Which Horus?" may be "Who's asking ? When? Where? Why?" as the observer (me) must choose a place to stand to take the measure of the falcon-headed god.


Keith9 said...

I think you solved your own problem. I suppose the deity that is important is the one you choose to work with. This also gives you a great deal of freedom and room for expression in you work.


Irenesson said...

The reason that "scholars" have such a hard time comprehending a polytheistic God like Horus, is because they're not polytheists themselves. It's like having a deep sea fish explain living conditions on land.

As a polytheist, I see no problem with changing mythology. As worshippers evolve, so does their relations to the Gods. It's not a question of one God that replaced another, it's simply natural evolution.